Saturday, March 31, 2007

Clara Zetkin: Lenin on the Emancipation of Women

Clara Zetkin: Lenin on the Women’s Question

From My Memorandum Book

The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V.I. Lenin;
Publisher: International Publishers;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan.

For the complete text log on to the following URL:

Comrade Lenin frequently spoke to me about the women’s question. Social equality for women was, of course, a principle needing no discussion for communists. It was in Lenin’s large study in the Kremlin in the autumn of 1920 that we had our first long conversation on the subject.

“We must create a powerful international women’s movement, on a clear theoretical basis”, Lenin began. “There is no good practice without Marxist theory, that is clear. The greatest clarity of principle is necessary for us communists in this question. There must be a sharp distinction between ourselves and all other Parties. Unfortunately, our Second World Congress did not deal with this question. It was brought forward, but no decision arrived at. The matter is still in commission, which should draw up a resolution, theses, directions. Up to the present, however, they haven’t got very far. You will have to help.”

I was already acquainted with what Lenin said and expressed my astonishment at the state of affairs. I was filled with enthusiasm about the work done by Russian women in the revolution and still being done by them in its defence and further development. And as for the position and activities of women comrades in the Bolshevik Party, that seemed to me a model Party. It alone formed an international communist women’s movement of useful, trained and experienced forces and a historical example.

Movement of Working Women

“That is right, that is all very true and fine”, said Lenin, with a quiet smile. “In Petrograd, here in Moscow, in other towns and industrial centres the women workers acted splendidly during the revolution. Without them we should not have been victorious. Or scarcely so. That is my opinion. How brave they were, how brave they still are! Think of all the suffering and deprivations they bore. And they are carrying on because they want freedom, want communism. Yes, our proletarian women are excellent class fighters. They deserve admiration and love. Besides, you must remember that even the ladies of the ‘constitutional democracy’ in Petrograd proved more courageous against us than did the junkers. That is true. We have in the Party reliable, capable and untiringly active women comrades. We can assign them to many important posts in the Soviet and Executive Committees, in the People’s Commissariats and public services of every kind. Many of them work day and night in the Party or among the masses of the proletariat, the peasants, the Red Army. That is of very great value to us. It is also important for women all over the world. It shows the capacity of women, the great value their work has in society. The first proletarian dictatorship is a real pioneer in establishing social equality for women. It is clearing away more prejudices than could volumes of feminist literature. But even with all that we still have no international communist women’s movement, and that we must have. We must start at once to create it. Without that the work of our International and of its Parties is not complete work, can never be complete. But our work for the revolution must be complete. Tell me how communist work is going on abroad.”

Lenin listened attentively, his body inclined forward slightly, following, without a trace of boredom, impatience or weariness, even incidental matters.

“Not bad, not at all bad”, said Lenin. “The energy, willingness and enthusiasm of women comrades, their courage and wisdom in times of illegality or semi-legality indicate good prospects for the development of our work. They are valuable factors in extending the Party and increasing its strength, in winning the masses and carrying on our activities. But what about the training and clarity of principle of these men and women comrades? It is of fundamental importance for work among the masses. It is of great influence on what closely concerns the masses, how they can be won, how made enthusiastic. I forget for the moment who said: ‘One must be enthusiastic to accomplish great things.’ We and the toilers of the whole world have really great things to accomplish. So what makes your comrades, the proletarian women of Germany, enthusiastic? What about their proletarian class-consciousness; are their interests, their activities concentrated on immediate political demands? What is the mainspring of their ideas?

“I have heard some peculiar things on this matter from Russian and German comrades. I must tell you. I was told that a talented woman communist in Hamburg is publishing a paper for prostitutes and that she wants to organise them for the revolutionary fight. Rosa acted and felt as a communist when in an article she championed the cause of the prostitutes who were imprisoned for any transgression of police regulations in carrying on their dreary trade. They are, unfortunately, doubly sacrificed by bourgeois society. First, by its accursed property system, and, secondly, by its accursed moral hypocrisy. That is obvious. Only he who is brutal or short-sighted can forget it. But still, that is not at all the same thing as considering prostitutes – how shall I put it? – to be a special revolutionary militant section, as organising them and publishing a factory paper for them. Aren’t there really any other working women in Germany to organise, for whom a paper can be issued, who must be drawn into your struggles? The other is only a diseased excrescence. It reminds me of the literary fashion of painting every prostitute as a sweet Madonna. The origin of that was healthy, too: social sympathy, rebellion against the virtuous hypocrisy of the respectable bourgeois. But the healthy part became corrupted and degenerate.

“Besides, the question of prostitutes will give rise to many serious problems here. Take them back to productive work, bring them into the social economy. That is what we must do. But it is difficult and a complicated task to carry out in the present conditions of our economic life and in all the prevailing circumstances. There you have one aspect of the women’s problem which, after the seizure of power by the proletariat, looms large before us and demands a practical solution. It will give us a great deal of work here in Soviet Russia. But to go back to your position in Germany. The Party must not in any circumstances calmly stand by and watch such mischievous conduct on the part of its members. It creates confusion and divides the forces. And you yourself, what have you done against it?”

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